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Problem Solving in the Workplace and Problem Solving in the Workplace Scenarios

April 24, 2023

Developing problem solving skills for the workplace is important for all professionals, regardless of your field. However, not all problems are created equal, and the ability to solve and analyze them can vary greatly depending on the situation. In this post, we explore why problem-solving skills are important for the workplace, how to develop a framework for problem solving, scenarios, and interview prep for answering questions that deal with problem solving.


Why problem solving in the workplace is important

 “Problem solving” is a generic term, but at its core – most companies exist to solve problems and make life easier for their customers or clients. It’s critical to also have employees who adopt this mindset.


There are several reasons why problem-solving in the workplace is important, including:

 Efficiency: Employers value the ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently (for example – for less time, money or resources).

Career advancement: Individuals who demonstrate strong problem-solving skills are often seen as valuable assets to the company and may be considered for promotion or leadership positions.

Collaboration: People who are good problem solvers are often usually good collaborators and demonstrate strong team work and communication skills.

Adaptability: In today’s rapidly changing business environment, adapting to new challenges and solving problems is critical.


A framework for solving problems in the workplace

When approaching a problem, it’s important to develop a framework for how you’ll approach, evaluate, and ultimately solve problems.


Problem solving goes beyond just coming up with the solution for a problem. Along the way, you’ll want to make sure you’re thinking through multiple perspectives and approaching the issue at hand with a calm mindset.


1. Take a step back and collect yourself. How much time you have for this may depend greatly on the scenario, but make sure you’re thinking about the problem in a calm and a collected manner before you fire off a defensive email or say something you may regret. Take a quick walk, pause what you’re doing for a few minutes, or take some deep breaths.


2. Gather information. Collect as much information as possible about the problem. How urgently does it need to be fixed? Who are the stakeholders you need to keep in mind? Ask for help if you need it or assistance from others on your team who have been in similar situations.


Don’t spend too much time gathering information you won’t need or overcomplicating the problem. Simply try to gather background information or details on what led up to the problem at-hand.


3. Ask questions and brainstorm solutions. Once you understand the details of the problem, you can start brainstorming potential solutions. If a customer has asked for a refund – can you grant them a partial refund? If someone on your team is unhappy with the outcome of a project – can you work with them on your plan for next quarter?


Doing something very simple can also be away to solve a problem too. For example, let’s say a customer is asking for a report on all their performance to date, and they need it tomorrow morning. Usually, these reports take you and your team a week to do. Instead of staying up all night working on the report and sending over something the client may be disappointed with – can you ask them a few questions on what they’re looking for specifically, or if there is a key metric you can do some in-depth research on vs. writing a lengthy report? Behind many seemingly last-minute requests is often a simple reason, and you can often uncover this reason by asking more questions.  



4. Develop a plan for action. Figure out what steps you need to take, who you need to involve, and when you need to act.


Sometimes you don’t need the most elaborate solution– you just need a simple yes or no answer to give someone. Don’t overcomplicate a solution.


5. Over-communicate. This is especially important if the problem you’re solving is customer-facing or high visibility. You want to make sure others involved know that you’re working on a solution. If people don’t hear anything back, or feel like you’re going silent – they often assume you’re not working on it anymore or you don’t care (even if this couldn’t be further from the truth!).


Over-communication can take several forms, including sending progress updates, sharing email or Slack updates (or even setting up a dedicated Slack channel), and


6. Keep track of your learnings. As you learn how to solve problems or deal with certain situations, write down or save your steps somewhere where you won’t forget them. You may want to refer to these at a future date or share with a future person in your role.



Problem solving in the workplace scenarios

If you’re interviewing at new companies or want to share with your manager how you’ve been successful at problem solving in the past, you may want to reflect on some scenarios where you’ve solved problems. These can look like:


1. An unhappy customer has lodged a complaint about a service: In this scenario, you would need to investigate the complaint (i.e. gather more information), discover the cause of the problem, and develop a plan to solve the issue. This could look like offering a full or partial refund, a replacement, or an additional guarantee or future discount. This is one where they are often many solutions – you can be creative!


2. A project is behind schedule: This one is all too common – you have plans in place to finish a project by a certain date, or hit a certain milestone, but it becomes clear you’re not going to achieve your goal.  


3. A team member you manage is consistently underperforming: If a team member is not meeting expectations, it’s important to identify the root cause of the problem and work with the employee to understand why. Are there miscommunication issues? Are they aware of the problem? Once you have a discussion, you can work with them to establish a plan for improvement.This can look like additional training, setting goals with shorter time frames, or discussing some variation of a Performance Improvement Plan for which if changes aren’t made by a certain date, disciplinary action will be taken.


4. Communication between teams is poor: Let’s say you’re a member of the engineering team, and you’re having a difficult time communicating with the product team – they’re developing their own features and are giving directions different from what you’ve discussed. To solve this problem, you may need to gather more information about why the communication gaps are occurring and think through solutions that allow both teams to meet their needs. This solution could be implementing new communication protocols, providing additional training, or establishing new meeting times to clear up any confusion.  



How to answer the interview question, “Tell me about a scenario when you had to solve a problem in the workplace?”

Developing problem solving skills isn’t only important for when you’re on the job, or for growing into a new role in your company. Speaking about how you approach problem solving is also important for interviewing.


When you interview for new roles, you’ll probably be asked about a time when you had to problem-solve a difficult situation, or how you would solve a particular scenario the interview gives.


When preparing an answer to this common question, stick to the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Use the scenarios above as thought starters and write out an answer demonstrating how you dealt with a problem outlining the Situation (background and actions leading up to the problem),Task (your involvement), Action (your plan), and Result (what happened as a result of implementing your plan).  


STAR can apply to either a real situation you faced, or a hypothetical one. Practice your answer, or multiple answers, and you’ll be ready to share how you had to solve a problem in the workplace.


What have been some of your favorite, or most effective approaches to problem solving in the workplace? 

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